MRFF President and Founder Mikey Weinstein was contacted on August 23, 2017 by a senior Pentagon official speaking on behalf of 112 fellow MRRF clients at the Pentagon regarding ‘bible studies’ being held at a restaurant located in the Pentagon’s open air concourse. The attempt to maximize the proselytizing impact of this ‘bible study’ over any impact on actual religious scholarship was made abundantly clear in the selection of a restaurant located at the busiest entrance to the Pentagon (Metro entrance) at the busiest time of day (0745). The lead MRFF client in this matter described one particular event that led to the request for MRFF’s assistance:
The restaurant itself was full of attendees, uniformed and civilian and the crowd had spilled out into the hallway. The service was being conducted by a very passionate, and very loud Army chaplain, supported by a very effective sound system. [The Restaurant] is an open restaurant with no doors and with windows that open up to the main hallway so the service could be heard clearly from the Metro entrance, down the Apex to the next corridor. I counted the times the word “Jesus” was used while I was still in earshot…6 times in less than 2 minutes. I couldn’t help but wonder if that had been a Jewish service or a Muslim service what the outcry would have been. I also couldn’t help but wonder how an Atheist Major passing by, seeing his commanding officer in attendance, would have felt.
Although I can’t be certain, the event smacked of an evangelical attempt to reach an audience beyond those voluntarily attending. I am, however, certain that the event was strategically planned to be in that venue at that time of day for that very reason. Although I am a senior, career civilian in the Department of Defense, with values and beliefs not easily assuaged by evangelical advances of peers or superiors, as a non-Christian, the event this morning felt very divisive to me. I feel (as doubtless others do), such displays emasculate the Department’s values of inclusion and religious tolerance and reject the very American belief that there is strength in diversity. There is no place for this in our military. Religion (or lack thereof) is inextricably linked to one’s identity the same way race, gender, ethnicity and sexual preference are – not to be outcast, mocked, ridiculed, disrespected or even challenged. The event this morning was an affront to the beliefs of any one of those passers-by who were not of that particular Christian faith and such affronts are nothing less than a threat to the trust, cohesion and good order and discipline that the military depends on for readiness in defense of the Nation. As I write this I am literally sick to my stomach that this could be allowed in the Pentagon of all places, the heartbeat of the military, where our most senior leaders are expected to walk, talk and breathe the message of inclusiveness – and a place where I am otherwise very proud to work.
Within a week on being contacted by Mikey on behalf of MRFF’s 112 clients comprised of service members and DOD employees from various religious faiths (predominantly Christian) and non-believers, the Pentagon has ordered these types of religious events to be held in a much more appropriate manner including the elimination of loud speakers and any spillover obstruction to the Pentagon concourse. In essence, the Pentagon agreed with MRFF’s contention that this type of event was less characteristic of a religious study/observance than an obvious attempt at proselytizing to a semi-captive audience within a government facility. In response to the Pentagon’s action, MRFF’s client representative emailed the statement:
I want to take a moment to thank you personally for your prompt response and supportive engagement with my recent complaint of an inappropriately loud bible study that takes place in the busiest parts of the Pentagon on a weekly basis. From my initial contact with you it was clear to me that you would deal with it swiftly, competently and without compromising my anonymity. This personal experience I’ve had with MRFF has confirmed what I’ve already known from following your cases for years. You and the foundation are very effective at what you do, whether it’s researching or lawyering, or testifying before Congress. More importantly, you recognize and unfailingly uphold the anonymity of your clients who, sadly, still have to worry about retaliation when they decide to throw the BS card on the table and come to you with a complaint. Thank you most sincerely for your help with my case and for everything you do to support our Soldiers, Seamen, Airmen, Marines and DoD Civilians and the vital role they play in defending the Nation and our Constitution.